NEW YORK -- About an hour before Game 4's tip-off in the Garden, Iman Shumpert was leaning on the scorer's table near the Knicks' bench, dressed in a team sweatsuit and extending his left leg all the way out because of the brace on his knee.
A small group of reporters were huddled around the man his teammates call "Shump," asking him questions for the first time since he tore his left ACL and lateral meniscus during Game 1 in Miami. He wasn't able to be at Game 2 because he was recovering in the team hotel and for Game 3, he was just getting out of the hospital in New York.
On Sunday, even though Shumpert was on the sideline and not in uniform warming up, he had that same look of determination like he always has on and off the court -- that straight-face look when making it known for the 50th time that no one can beat him off the dribble. That's because he's confident he'll be the same player when he returns.
"It's definitely going to set me back, but I'm not worried," he said. "I know I'll be able to pick it up. I'll figure it out. The biggest thing is just coming back healthy. I'm not trying to come back too early, just come back healthy and make sure that I can help."
Shumpert described the injury as a "freak accident," saying he knew right away it was bad and that he tore something. He just didn't think it was going to be his ACL.
"I just wanted to go behind my back," he said, referring to the move he was about to do with 6:07 remaining in the third quarter of Game 1. "It's something I do all the time. It's a regular move. My leg just didn't turn this time. It just stuck. I can't blame it on anything. ... I don't think anybody could attribute it to anything or blame it on anything."
Shumpert called it "surreal" to see fellow Chicagoan Derrick Rose also tear his left ACL in a Game 1 that same day against the 76ers.
"It's tough, but anybody that knows me and knows Derrick knows we're going to come back," he said, "and we're going to do the work to get back on the court."
The rookie has already begun the recovery process, which could take up to eight months. For now, it's basic -- he called it "boring" -- including icing, range-of-motion testing with a bending machine and minimal flexibility exercises to trigger his calf and thigh muscles. Things will pick up in a couple of weeks with more intense workouts. The overall rehab is six to eight months, but he's not trying to rush it.
"I just want to come back better," he said. "As long as I come back and I'm able to continue on the path I was on, continue to grow with my teammates, I'll be fine. ... I'm not trying to beat any timetable. I want to make sure when I come back, I'm comfortable. The MCL sprain [on Dec. 25 against the Celtics] was totally different. Right now, it's the end of the season. I want to take my time and make sure everything's healthy, so when I come back I'll help the team."
Once Shumpert's able to get back on the court, he said he wants to focus on shooting repetition (keeping his form right) and making sure he doesn't lose his aggressiveness attacking the basket.
Reflecting on his rookie season, he said playing for the Knicks was mostly everything he thought it would be, except that the fans surprised him.
"I didn't think they would embrace me like they did, but they did," he said. "I'm happy for it. My hope is to continue to grow with this team."
That's mainly because Knicks fans, who grew up watching defense, appreciated Shumpert's desire and ability to guard the best player on the court, even if that player outmatched him physically. However, he said sometimes people focused too much on him being a defensive-minded player; the way he saw it was he was just providing energy on defense and offense.
"I don't play with fear," he said. "I don't feel like I can't match up with anybody. I don't feel like I have a deficiency that's bad. Anything I do, I just do it with confidence. In the offseason, I'm going to go back and look at tape, look at numbers and try to improve on where I can improve."
Offensively, Shumpert improved his jumpshot the most in the latter part of the season. While he benefited from working with former sharpshooter Allan Houston during practice and before games, he credited familiarity in the offense as the biggest reason for developing that part of his game -- even his range. He went from shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from downtown from Dec. 25 to March 24 to 44.1 percent to 37.9 percent, respectively, from March 26 to April 26.
"I feel like by the end of the season, I was just more comfortable," he said. "I knew what shots I needed to take. A lot of times in the early part of the season, I was just guessing. I was just playing off God-given ability. I didn't really understand everything the way I wanted to. I felt like I could see my role shaping up on the team, and I didn't take as many shots. I took the shots I needed to take and I practiced those shots that I knew were shots I was going to get."
Shumpert is no question the Knicks' future at shooting guard, but the severity of his injury means the Knicks will need a new starting two come opening night. His counterparts currently on the depth chart include Landry Fields and J.R. Smith, but neither are locked to return. Fields is a restricted free agent and Smith is unrestricted with a player option.
While the Knicks would prefer Smith over Fields, sources say Smith will decline his player option and test free agency, where he would likely receive a decent multi-year offer from another team, based on how he's adjusted quickly from China and played pretty well in New York. Realistically, the Knicks will probably use their $5 million mid-level exception on Jeremy Lin, so that means if Smith wanted to return, he'd have to agree to his $2.6 million player option for next season. Beyond that, there's the $1.4 million veteran's minimum, but that won't be in Smith or Fields' range.
That means the Knicks may have to look at alternates on the cheap. At that level, some 2012 unrestricted free agent shooting guards known for their offense and defense could include: Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus (Celtics), Delonte West (Mavericks), Randy Foye (Clippers), and Shannon Brown and Grant Hill (Suns). A potential dark horse could be, although his defense is a bit suspect, is former Knick Jamal Crawford, who has a player option with the Trail Blazers. The Knicks pursued him hard in December before the season, and his agent, Andy Miller, also represents Jared Jeffries.
As Crawford knows, having gone through an ACL tear in 2001 and recovered well from it (as did guards Tim Hardaway in 1993 and Baron Davis in 1998), things should be looking up for Shump. And they are, especially considering he's only 21 years old and the gradual pace of the offeason (without pressure from the actual schedule) will help prevent any setbacks. Along with the rookie's extreme focus and determination, fans should be optimistic about his immediate impact in December or January.
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